Memories of cats or the adventures of Claret, Simon and Ceausescu

Cats Claret, Simon and Ceausescu were a motley trio. Claret, soot black with an accidental mark of white on his right front paw, looked almost perfect. Svelte and agile, Claret  was the most noble looking of the three. Unfortunately, he had a tusk like tooth growing around his lower lip  contorting his almost perfect cat face into the visage of a monster. We loved him nonetheless, and as children our mother regularly told us tales of Claret on, what we now we realize, were very unlikely cat adventures in the environs of a dairy farm. At the time however, we were entranced by every word.

Where  Claret’s farm adventures were unlikely, Simon was equally  an unlikely farm cat. Of all the kittens born on that farm, Simon was the most unusual in that he was born a Siamese kitten in a litter of tabby cats. Angry and  terrifying with a  flexing paw that reached across rooms to scratch you, he could spit venom all the way to China. His anger however, was justified.  Simon was beautiful.  His fluffy coat gave him a blueish grey aura differentiating  him from his mud coloured siblings. His piercing blue eyes and tiny black pupils gave ample warning of his anger but as children this never deterred us.

We chased Simon. We chased him again and then we chased him some more. Trying to catch and cuddle a cat that never, ever wanted to be held was always going to to end badly. And end badly it did, each and every time. Scars of Simon have begun to fade  but they were a great source of competitive comparison as young kids. Children who chase a cat in order to cuddle them probably never deserved Simon’s response but children who pursued him aiming to incur battle scars deserved everything we got.

Ceausescu was the least memorable of the three. Indeed, I don’t remember him at all. I have no memories of scars, chases or cuddles. But I do remember my siblings and I named him on Christmas day 1989. The Berlin Wall was crumbling and the brutal Romanian dictator was removed, if you like, from existence. In celebration of the opening up of a gateway to the Black sea, we memorialized our nondescript and easily forgotten tabby cat him with a naming ceremony bestowing him with the title Ceausescu. Unfortunately he was named post humorously.

On Christmas morning 1989 Ceausescu had, through a unfortunate series of events, hanged himself in a trap set by young children aimed at catching rats. Why my  then very young brothers were trying to catch rats now escapes me but it was clearly a piece of engineering that worked. Poor Ceausescu became entangled in the trap and at the same time as Romania reclaimed  itself as a nation for its citizens, our tabby lost his life.

Sensitive to the horror the cat must have endured, we named him Ceausescu. Retrospectively the name is somewhat insensitive to the citizens of Romania having endured horrendous oppression under the dictator’s regime. Nevertheless he  has  been immortalized and his last horrors marked as ones comparable to the execution of a terrorizing oppressor  reminding me of  children’s awareness of global events and their sensitivity to the horrors others endure.


Should have gone to Specsavers!

150px-RWS_Tarot_10_Wheel_of_FortuneSpending a portion of a Saturday afternoon in sweltering heat in a velvet draped cubicle hardly sounds inviting. And yet I recently presented myself to a tarot card reader in a similar circumstance. Having listened to the whisperings of friends discussing their predicted futures, I decided to put their reader to the test. Could he convince a non believer? The answer is no. Indeed,  the  card reader’s capacity to roll his eyes and rock in his chair to  profound exclamations that “next year is going to be fantastic”, simply generated an uneasy cynicism, questions about performance and this man’s apparent failure to make a much needed trip to Specsavers.

His obvious short sightedness was bothering him. Each distribution of the cards saw him lean so near to the table I worried he could fall into a vortex opening up through his close dealings with time. This, in my book, is a credible possibility for a person who forecasts futures through arbitrary meanings suggested by icons of the tarot. Swooping towards the table in examination of the cards is, it turns out, all part of the performance, and while it is disorienting, it is no where  nearly as disturbing as his eye rolling.

images-2With every temperature  rise in the hot little cubicle came increased eye rolling. Each reading saw my prophet turn his head to the right leaving only the whites of his eyes visible through  half closed lids. Flash backs of Francis Bacon paintings came to mind. Despite the reader’s claims that next year was going to a great one,  a creeping suspicion set in that, in fact, next year would be dark and shuttered grey. Only escape from the cubicle could free me from the impending sense of doom my vortex falling telegrapher of messages  from the future was  generating.

Fumbling, mumbling and sweating I  proffered  €40 euro across the table, mindful of the possible vortex, and crashed out of the cubicle.  Short sighted he may be but he certainly saw me coming. Left gasping for air on George’s Street I wondered how to reach  the nearest Specsavers.  Call me a conspiracy theorist but they have set one up very close by!


“I guess we’ll just have to adjust”: Arcade Fire and why we need to be bored by The Pixies.

Pristine skies are something of a rarity in Dublin. June 29th however, was one of those welcome occasions when the weather yielded to neither cloud nor night cool. Ham Sandwich, enthused by the showing in of their idols, were adorable. The sun shone. When night came Arcade Fire filled it with light and sound. Guitars screamed. Voices soared and crowds echoed lyrics excitedly. Indeed, on June 29th we were all excited. Well, almost all of us. The Pixies bored and looked bored with only  hard-core Pixie fans staying attentive throughout.

Their flawless but sultry performance suffered from a certain rheumatic aura. Hit followed hit. image-fcfe85c8173d2129325b2cc35bd0dac69aa6f6971a7bd3e966226e9d7effc87e-V-1The crowd, populated mainly, but not solely by those of a certain age, swarmed stage ward after Ham Sandwich to be met with trophy number after trophy number. “Hey” and “Where is my mind?” had us on our feet  yearning to name our own consciousness while turning from tones of milky Irish to freckly red. In between the crowd lost interest and The Pixies didn’t seem to care. Younger crowd members, there to see Ham Sandwich and Arcade Fire, were given a lesson in rock’s cool detachment. What else might you want? Engagement with the crowd? Maybe. Deviation from a jaded performance that has clearly been repeated countless times? Certainly!

The Pixies have a scant reputation in terms of  crowd interaction. They bang out song after song regardless of those listening. This is their style. Knowing that however, does little to prevent the onset of disinterest. Cooing to “Caribou” is one thing but swaying jauntily to “Here Comes Your Man” when even Frank Black has openly expressed boredom is another. Watching one of the most impacting bands of the late twentieth century churn out anthem renditions of their most influential music is a little grinding.

Still, close your eyes and you can hear their influence echo down through the past thirty years. From Nirvana and The Libertines across the spectrum to Arcade Fire where indie meets rock, bands pull their roots from The Pixies’ exploration of punk, psychedelic rock, surrealism and old fashioned rock and roll. For this reason alone,The Pixies should never stop touring.

Boring to watch they may be, but we need The Pixies. Metarock, gigs where music is mediated by our mobiles, has spoiled us. We want bands that look good in pictures and cool as hashtags. The Pixie’s exposure to crowds whose attention is split between the event, social media and the music makes their performance seem something of an historical exhibition piece. In light of movement away from pared down rock towards roller coaster concerts dishing up explorations of light and sound, modest displays where music speaks for itself are necessary. They remind us what raw brilliance sounds like by itself.

These occasions, pristine but boring are likely to become much less frequent in the future. Unlike Arcade Fire, we will Mileyandthepopenever witness The Pixies donning a Bono or  Pope head to rip up a picture of Miley Cyrus with the crowd accompanying a flat screen  Sinead O Connor singing “Nothing Compares to you”. The Pixies will never blast the stage in white light and release confetti in a million pieces into the night. The Pixies, in this respect, are a much greener band than Arcade Fire.  However,  metarock is here to stay and The Pixies have not gone away. Not yet anyway.

We now occupy an odd space where we can still remember gigs without all the tricks of  theunnamed contemporary festival. But we expect more. As crowds we expect light, sound, confetti and to be teased by both band and music. Standing between us and the band, our phones act as an immediate channel to the wonderful world of social media. Delights Arcade Fire and their ilk deliver are expected when parting with hefty admission prices. Nonetheless, The Pixies’ influence will last long after Arcade Fire’s capacity to draw huge crowds has diminished. We need The Pixies to bore us so that we know the raw enjoyment of rock before it disappears altogether. And when The Pixies are gone?  Then ” I guess we’ll just have to adjust!”


You know when you’ve been tangoed…

Emerging from the basement of the Globe bar on George’s street earlier, the evening settled powdered and blue across Dublin’s sky. Silken dusk scarves pulling themselves across the city for the night brought a certain peace to the moment. Half turning back to say goodbye, I moved off the kerb. This, I knew, was going to be awkward. The people in whose company I had just spent the last two hours were also finding the moment a little strained. My shuffling certainly didn’t help.

A strange sight you might think. A group of acquaintances saying goodbye with one looking upwards as though utterly entranced while twitching away from them down the street. Having witnessed the occurrences of our last dance class however, they knew it wasn’t strange at all. Rather it was required to alleviate all of our embarrassment. Sky focusing helped avoid their eyes. It was goodbye and we all knew it was for the last time. I wouldn’t be back. Both brief and tumultuous, my flirtation with tango has definitely come to an end. It was enjoyable at times but for once, I can safely say this relationship is over.

Tango requires poise, rhythm and a certain confidence. Most of all however, tango requires that your have two feet at the end of your legs unrestricted by dyspraxia. Your feet that is should understand simple instructions like leave the weight on your right foot and swivel, and swivel until the lead urges you to swivel in the opposite direction. That, apparently, is all it takes to perform a backwards ocho in Tango.

Trust your weight on your feet and turn on the ball of your foot. Look poised.  Now, pull your breath from your stomach. Lean in towards your leader. Push against him. Only move when urged to do so and read his movements. His movements, a body map, let you move through space together. Keep your legs loose. Move from your hips. Lean in. Not out. Lean in. Strike a spatial equilibrium between you keeping your embrace rounded and firm. Hold your hands in the centre. Relax. Forget that both of your palms are sweating profusely. Swivel. Extend your leg backwards. Keep your weight on the other foot. Turn, extend, move, swing, straighten up, breathe, listen to the music, so on and so on.  Poise, rhythm, a physicist’s capacity to interpret space and turn it into action are all the skills required to perform the basic moves of tango. Their absence however, brings embarrassment, extremely sweaty palms and the awkward collision of bodies. That simply isn’t tango!

Failing to dance opens up lots of possibility however, and not dancing tango in Dublin is just as interesting as dancing tango in Dublin. Just beware of the risk to your pride. Saving face is certainly important to the established dancers of whom there are many but they actually can dance. However, throwing all pride aside lets interlopers like myself become briefly privy to the politics of a well networked niche that has had people dancing across Dublin’s basements, bars and society’s for the past 20 to 30 years. Fleeting but fascinating that insight has now come to an end. And it is all a little disappointing. Rather than being an inability to accept that I will never really tango across a wooden floor in Buenos Aires, the disappointment towards my dyspraxic feet is more to do with the ending of this look into and at tango fanatics.

Lessons and melongas (social meets) in the Globe are just a small suggestion of the movements and interactions of Dublin’s dancers. Indeed, the capital’s tango fanatics meet five nights a week in places like the basement of the Globe, the Turk’s head, Wynn’s and the Pillar Room. The Pillar Room, a secret room tucked away behind the Rotunda Hospital on Parnell square, draws a “classy crowd”. This information, passed in whispers and with the confirmed confidentiality of a hand squeeze, suggests layers of hierarchy and a thinly veiled snobbery at work. Being poised and classy, it seems, is of central importance. The regulation and control demonstrated on the dance floor stretches across this network. This, after all, is tango, not rock and roll. The push and pull of resistance dominates this dance rather than what looks like the suggestion of tantalizing moves and sensuous chemistry that could explode at an given moment. It is a dance of control.

Knowing this of course does very little to quell the mortification of your patient leader moving you to the right with yet another ‘okay we can start again’. Tango bliss, a state far beyond any existential knowledge of our being, is further away than ever. Indeed, my encounter with tango has drawn out an inner child tripping around in her mother’s stilettos. It is back to rock and roll for me. It may be a short cut to a point outside ourselves but the slide of rock guitars and the safety of dancing boots are easier to trust. Sophistication and control may induce bliss but this woman knows when she’s been tangoed…

Nights like mornings

Approaching the summer solstice

Approaching the summer solstice

Mid June in Ireland offers nights like mornings. What seems like endless hours of daylight promises potential long forgotten  last winter. On nights like this, in a city like Dublin, anything is possible. Open air cinemas compete with museum hunts, late night music events and the  opportunity of a loose limbed stretch across the sands  licking Dublin Bay.

On the night before the solstice Dublin lured a friend and I away from the strand into a late evening gig at The Sugar Club on Lower Leeson street. The Fred Wesley Trio, headed by FW himself, pulled us into the intensity of their layered sound immediately. Bringing the whole audience on textured navigations of jazz solos and crescendos, FW’s sound was full of the endless return of solstice promise. Fred Wesley, we salute you!

Fred WesleyTriocrop

The Fred Wesley Trio at The Sugar Club